There’s Only Room for One at the Top?

by Evette Dionne

Nicki Minaj and Lil MamaHip-hop is actress and rapper Lil Mama’s first love, but she’s struggled to gain the exposure and record sales needed to be successful in the music business. Mama – born Natia Kirkland – is preparing to star as Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in a TLC biopic, so she’s been fielding questions about the state of female kinship in hip-hop. The Brooklyn MC claims the unity shown between women in hip-hop in the 1990s is waning, and the premiere female rapper, Nicki Minaj is partially to blame.

In a recent interview with the Hollie Wood & Friends Show, Mama reminisced on what made the 1990’s a “golden era” for women in the rap game. “One of the things that makes me most happy about music is that I can look at a picture and see Da Brat, Missy, Lil Kim and I know Aaliyah is a singer but to see them all in one photo together hugging and laughing and really having genuine love for each other … I want to feel that with my hip-hop sisters,” she said.

There are few prominent female rappers with commercial and critical success. YMCMB rapper, Nicki Minaj, leads the pack, but Mama doesn’t think she’s using her platform to elevate her peers.

“It’s a lot of underground women who are trying to break through, but on a mainstream level the one person that I really hear on the radio is Nicki Minaj,” she said. “A lot of times, I hear her say. ‘I do this for women,’ and ‘I’m doing this for all of us,’ while she’s accepting a BET award, but other than that I don’t’ see her embracing any other women. I feel it’s time for female MCs to really start sticking together and start putting out some music.”

Mama isn’t the first female MC to wage war on Minaj’s sportsmanship. Rap legend Lil Kim has often said the Trinidad-born rapper isn’t interested in seeing other women prosper. But that’s the nature of rap and other fields where few spots are reserved for women of color. The same issues exist in modeling.

Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks were deemed as rivals before they were ever formally introduced and this caused immediate division between them.  The continuous referral of Banks as “the new Naomi Campbell” when she entered the modeling world at 17 sparked the rift between the two and it only escalated from there. According to Somali model, Iman, purposeful rifts between black supermodels have been occurring for decades. She claims the media attempted to create a similar conflict between her and another prominent supermodel, Beverly Johnson, in the 1970’s.

African-Americans models are in demand for spring and summer collections since their complexions contrast well with the vibrant colors of designer collections, but work is slim in other seasons. This exclusion, combined with the media’s insistence that only one woman of color can reign at the top of a field at once, creates unbridled resentment and intense competition between women of color.

Though Rihanna and Beyoncé differ immensely in their artistry, the ladies are often compared. NBC’s now-defunct “Deception” series was considered the answer to ABC’s “Scandal” because both shows featured a black woman in the lead role. “Deception” didn’t last because it couldn’t compete with the rabid fans of “Scandal,” though the shows had different premises and plot lines.

Minaj may be the latest proponent of the “protect the throne” ideology, but there are no female rappers, other than Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea, to compete with the “Superbass” MC on the corporate, commercial level. So, though Lil Mama’s point is valid, it’s impossible to know if Minaj will embrace other emerging female rappers in the future.

There may be room for only one female rapper at the top of the charts, but this shouldn’t stop them from building a coalition of power and potential. Female rappers should follow the example of most males in the business, as Lil Mama points out in her interview.

“I feel like we shouldn’t bash each other on records and get in person and talk about how these is no room for another female MC, it’s only me F you. Even with the dudes they will battle and let you know, ‘You not nicer than me but at the end of the day we should be able to get together and enjoy each other.”

Chime in Clutchettes and gents. Is there room for only one female rapper at the top?

  • Tonton Michel

    I remember back in the 90s every crew or rapper had one woman to back. Biggie had lil Kim, Jay and Foxy, Rough Rider and Eve 3 Six Mafia and Gangsta Boo, the list goes on. When men stopped doing that that’s when things seem to die down for women even Nicki is backed by Wayne. I guess in a male dominated industry you need that validation.

  • LN

    This is a great article but I have to make one correction: Deception didn’t last because it was a terribly written show. I tried to get into it. I couldn’t.

  • MimiLuvs

    “…“I feel like we shouldn’t bash each other on records and get in person and talk about how these is no room for another female MC, it’s only me F you. Even with the dudes they will battle and let you know, ‘You not nicer than me but at the end of the day we should be able to get together and enjoy each other.”

    With these beefs between rap artists…
    They feel as if I am in junior high again and someone is trying to instigate a fight between two other people.

  • ETC

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I tried so hard to get into that show but just couldn’t do it.

  • Gina

    Hmm, I think its just a woman thing. Especially if its mostly a boys game.

    I know alot of other communities with various cultures where women are exclusionary towards other up and coming talent.

  • Blue

    I agree with Tonton Michel

    Young Money has swept the air waves. if you don’t hear them on their individual song, you hear them as a guest star on someone elses song. Who ever is backing them, knows how to milk that brand. Plus before she had a mainstream album, she was on so many other people’s stuff. You forgot she didn’t even have an album yet.

  • KnottyNatural

    Two grown men or women, at that!

  • Miakoda

    “if you don’t hear them on their individual song, you hear them as a guest star on someone elses song.”

    They are able to put out so much material because it isn’t quality material.

  • Child, Please

    You are so right abeout that validation; Eve spoke on that in her behind the music. She had to prove herself to the “boys” before she could hang with the even bigger ones. Dre didn’t want to work with her because to him, she was too much. Having Ruff Riders back her gave her validity. The only crew where this wasn’t the case for was Murder, Inc. They had Ashanti, but there was no stand out female rapper from them. The two they did have also didn’t gain much prominence.

  • Child, Please

    Um, that’s not a correction that’s your opinion, lol; also, it got compared drastically to Revenge (which started out strong but is weak now). Copy-cat shows, much like copy-cat artist (aside from the person whom we’re discussing (Nicki)) don’t usually fare well. And I think that’s what the author got at here by mentioning Scandal, which for some odd reason it was compared to, though the shows had nothing in common.

  • Miakoda

    There would be room for more women at the top of whatever if our society didn’t have a thing for pitting women against each other.

  • Child, Please

    I really don’t want this to be a thing where people say it’s just a women thing or that it’s the media doing it to us, when people compare men the same it’s just in how you handle it. I’m sure there was room for both Mike Tyson and Holyfield just as there was room for Michael Jackson and Prince or Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder (I’m not saying they were rivals, but I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone compared there capabilities to play the piano while being blind. If people compare backsides and hair types, surely this has happened, just not to the extent with others in entertainment). I just think that in some situations one will start to believe the whispers and react to them as if they’re all true.

    I do think that Lil Mama makes a point; Nicki says she does this for the women, but has gone as far as swagger jacking one of her idols to dissing her collaborator. She’s worked with singers, sure, but I don’t see her doing anything with another female rapper outside of “My Chick Bad” remix that Luda put together. I do wonder how she truly feels about women and the state of hip-hop and what does she want to do to change that situation. If she is genuinely working toward unity then good, but it’s doubtful given her past actions.

  • Tammia Ware

    Money can build you a new body!

  • awomynsworth

    Male rappers sometimes lift one another up, give shout out and make each other relevant (Kanye for Chief Keef & Jay-z for J. Cole). It’s a tougher industry for women rappers. Nicki’s support could probably go a long way.

  • JS

    Nicki was on Yo Gotti’s “5 Star” Remix with Gucci Mane and Trina. But you are right she hasn’t personally reached out to any other female artist.

    However I get the suspicion she isn’t actually controlling her career but being directed and told what to do. Even with her Lil Kim beef that beef Kim had was more about Nicki’s the producers and management (Listen to breakfast club interview, basically Kim was salty when she got kicked off a track and the the producer gave it to solely to Nicki). I think Nicki is a puppet to her management. I do enjoy her Music but I think her people are scared of her being out-shown.

    Personally I would like to see a Nicki x Azealia Banks collab

  • RenJennM

    Murder, Inc. had both Charlie Baltimore and Vita. They were both female rappers, good ones at that. The only reason why they didn’t blow up is because Ja and Ashanti were the two biggest artists on that label at the time.

    And you couldn’t blame that on Chuck and Vita being females either because Murder, Inc. had other male artists like Cadillac Tah and Black Child, and they also didn’t blow up.

  • RenJennM

    It’s harder for female rappers nowadays because, like someone already mentioned, most of the female rappers back in the “Golden Era” of the 90′s had a male to back them or a team to be a part of (ex: Kim had Big, Missy had Timb, Foxy had Jay, Da Brat had JD, Eve had the whole Ruff Ryders, Lauryn Hill started as a part of The Fugees, etc). Today, female rappers are trying to build without a male’s co-sign and that can be difficult to do in an industry that’s so male-dominated. Even Nicki has Tunechi, and Iggy Azalea now has T.I.

    Rappers back in the day were given time to develop as artists. Now, it’s as if you have to already have established success and a fan base before someone even wants to consider signing you. In the “My Mic Sounds Nice” documentary about female rappers in the industry, Missy mentioned that most labels don’t want to invest in female rappers because they believe that women are more high-maintenance than male artists. For example, women require stylists, a makeup and hair team, wigs, weaves, and so on and so fourth; most male artists just require some clothes, some sneakers, and a barber. Also labels fear female rappers getting pregnant and losing their figure and sex appeal and other superficial reasons. It’s stupid really.

    So… with a reality like that of labels not even wanting to invest in a female rapper in the first place, it doesn’t give the mainstream world many female rappers to choose from. The few that do reach the surface probably feel like if they don’t fight each other for their spot, they’ll lose that spot. But what they don’t realize is, if they work together, it can be powerful. Lola Monroe makes an effort to collaborate with other female rappers, as well as Shawnna. Babs runs the Queen of the Ring female rap battle competition on YouTube, which is dope, but it’s not giving us music to purchase and award.

    So, right now, Nicki and Iggy are the only two poppin’ right now, with Nicki leading and making no immediate efforts to collaborate with other rap women. Missy has been creating a lot of amazing music lately, but it seems like no one even knows she’s back out. As iconic and talented as Missy is, you’d think she’d get steady radio play (besides just for her collabs, like the J.Cole “Nobody’s Perfect” song), but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

  • lya

    With all that money stop letting mostly white men dictate who will get a deal. We need to stop waiting for crumbs to fall off the master’s plate and have them wait for our crumbs to fall.

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